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The Silk Route - World Travel: Pompeii, Italy
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Italy: Pompeii Regiones V, VI & Villa dei Misteri
1998, 2017

Regio V - La Città da Scoprire Regio VI - La Città Aristocratica Via dei Sepolcri Villa dei Misteri
Mosaic, House of the tragic poet, Pompeii, Italy

 

Pompeii is one of the most fascinating ancient sites in the world - it takes a long day to cover it in any depth. This second part includes several aristocratic villas, in particular the Villa dei Misteri.

Part 1 Part 3

Regio V - La Città da Scoprire

Pompeii
Via di Nola on the south side of Regio V.

La Città da Scoprire according to the guide map - City of Discovery or to Discover, not quite sure why!

Pompeii
Dyeing Workshop on Insula I
Fire in the cavities beneath these stone vats provided heat.

Regio V has not been fully excavated, perhaps only a quarter has been investigated. Nevertheless, it still has much of interest including workshops, bakeries and fine houses.

Pompeii
Dyeing Workshop on Insula I
In the foreground the rim of the kettle's lead liner can be seen.

 

There are a couple of interesting workshops of Insula I with dyeing kettles - six of these dyeing workshops have been discovered in Pompeii.1 Dyeing kettles were lined with lead though the Romans were aware of the toxic nature of the metal. This seems to have been quite a large concern, with a similar property next door - perhaps the original business was doing so well it needed to expand, though the two do not have a connecting doorway.

 

Pompeii
House of the Bull
A small statue of a bull was found near the impluvium.
Pompeii
Casa di L. Caecili Iucundi
Pompeii
Casa di L. Caecili Iucundi
Pompeii
Thermopolium or Caupona of Spatalus
An unusually sparse but fine marble counter with provision for only one dolia for storing food stuff. At he end of the counter on the left is a hearth for heating food or drink and against the wall a number of display shelves.
Pompeii
Casa di L. Caecili Iucundi
Detail of sleeping dog mosaic in the entrance.

 

A servant called Spatalus managed a thermopolium or caupona on the corner of Insula 1 on Via di Nola.2 Whereas a thermopolium is identified as a (hot) food and drink establishment, a caupona is a place where wine and ready-dressed meat were sold.3 As well as the bar room there was a wine room in this establishment.

Pompeii
Casa di Marco Lucrezio Frontone
Pompeii
Casa dei Gladiatori

 

Regio VI - La Città Aristocratica

Pompeii
Popina in Insula 1.
The indented counter is a hearth over which a pot of food or drink could be placed to heat up.

On the north west side of the city with Porto Ercolano at its north west corner and Porta Vesuvio on its north east corner. This Regio has been fully excavated and has many fine houses.

Pompeii
Thermopolium with six dolia and a hearth.
Situated in Insula 2 on the corner of Vicolo di Mercurio and Via Consolare this must have had a prime spot.

There are some good examples of bars which served food and drink, variously called in the sources: popina, taberna, thermopolium and caupona. I tend to use popina for a smallish place, caupona if there is evidence of a wine room where perhaps more wine than food was sold, and taberna not at all - I think of this as a shop. Thermopolium is perhaps not the best term to use, being of Greek origin, but it is ubiquitous in the many websites and sources.

Pompeii
Thermopolium connected to Casa di Sallustio.
A large bar with six dolia, a hearth and a marble covered table.
Pompeii
Casa di Sallustio.
The house is huge, with its own bar out front.

Pompeii
Bakery with flour mills and oven, part of the House of A. Cossius Libanus.


Pompeii
Flour mills.
Grain was poured into the top and the upper egg timer shaped stone was turned via a wooden bar inserted into the rectangular cavities on the outside, often powered by donkeys. The grain was ground between its interior and the surface of the lower conical stone.
Pompeii
Casa della Fontana Piccola
Pompeii
Pompeii
Cave Canem - Beware of the dog!
Casa del Poetico Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet). One of the most famous images from Pompeii.

 

 

 

Casa della Fontana Piccola has one of the best-preserved mosaic fountains - high on everyone's "must see" list!

The fountain in question is actually quite large, perhaps three metres high, and encrusted with shells and mosaics. On its rim sits a bronze statuette of a fisherman.

 

Pompeii
Casa della Fontana Piccola.
Pompeii
Fountain detail.
Pompeii
Shell-framed mosaic on the fountain.

 

Pompeii
Casa della Fontana Piccola

The House of the Faun takes up the whole of the long narrow Insula 12. The main entrance is on Via della Fortuna leading directly into a large atrium with impluvium where the statue of the faun was found.

Pompeii
Replica statue of the dancing faun in the impluvium of the atrium at the House of the Faun.
Pompeii
House of the Faun
Pompeii
Statue of a Faun
This is the original statue from the House of the Faun, now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

Homes varied greatly in size and richness from a humble single room above a work place, to modest dwellings with living rooms and a latrine to the full-blown insula-sized aristocrat's house with up-to-the-minute decoration and every comfort, including private baths.

Pompeii
Tablinum on the north side of the atrium in the House of the Faun.
Pompeii
Festoon with masks, leaves and fruit.
Casa del Fauno
Now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.
Pompeii
Back left an iron stove containing a boiler with a bronze lid, right a bronze food warmer, front a bronze brazier.
Casa del Fauno
Pompeii
Mosaic of a cat biting a game bird; ducks, birds, fish and shells.
Casa del Fauno
Pompeii
Replica Alexander Mosaic in the Casa del Fauno.

 

The House of the Faun belonged to a man - or perhaps woman - of wealth. Not only did it have the de rigeur atrium with impluvium - a design borrowed from the Greeks - and all of the usual rooms of an aristocratic home, it had two porticoed gardens.4 Its spacious layout and rich decorations would signal to any visitor that the owner was a person of quality.

Pompeii
Lararium in House of the Faun VI.12.2 part 8
1998
Pompeii
Alexander Mosaic in Naples Archaeological Museum.

The Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun is one of the most famous finds at Pompeii. Made of around 1 million tesserae it depicts the Battle of Issus between the armies of Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius III in 333 BC.5 The technique employed is opus vermiculatum which uses very small tesserae, enabling fine detail to be rendered. The original is now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

Pompeii
Alexander the Great
Alexander Mosaic

 

Pompeii
King Darius III
Pompeii
Pompeii



Pompeii
Pompeii
Nilotic Landscape
House of the Faun - now Naples Archaeological Museum.
The subject of this mosaic, found in the central part of the threshold of the exedra where the Alexander mosaic is placed, is a reference to Alexander's conquest of Egypt with three pairs of fighting animals in and on the banks of the Nile: an ichneumon and a cobra, a hippo and a crocodile and two ibises - though these latter can also be interpreted as being quite friendly.5
Pompeii
Fountain at the east end of Via della Fortuna, on the south side of Regio VI. Via del Vesuvio behind is the eastern boundary of Regio VI. It depicts Silenus as fountain god resting on a wine skin.6

 

Pompeii
Via della Fortuna
Stepping stones for crossing roads which could be fouled with animal waste - the ruts testify to the many carts which had travelled through the town over the centuries.
Pompeii
Mosaic Cave Canem.
Casa di Orfeo
Now in Naples Archaeological Museum.
Pompeii
Cast of a chained dog.
Casa di Orfeo (now in Granai del Foro).

 

One of the most enduring emblems of Pompeii is the guard dog which is marked out in mosaic floors on numerous entrances including Casa di Orfeo. And one of the most horrific is the cast of a dog, chained in the entrance of the same house, unable to escape.6

Pompeii
The backdrop to the Casa dei Vetti atrium shows how the villa must once have looked. Note the fully marble-lined impluvium.

Pompeii
Decoration in the atrium.
Cupids figure strongly in the House of the Vetti. Here a cupid rides a crab.

Pompeii
Casa di Orfeo
Pompeii
Casa dei Vetti
Vestibule

Pompeii
A beautifully decorated room in the Fourth Style off the atrium.

Seals were found in the Casa dei Vetti bearing the names of two of the owners, very wealthy freedmen. The house was in the throes of being lavishly repaired and redecorated after the earthquake of 62AD when Vesuvius erupted.4

Pompeii
Casa dei Vetti
The infamous portrait of Priapus in the vestibule - on the opposing scale is a bag of coins! The image used to be hidden behind a louvred door which, it is said, the guardian would open for a fee!4
Pompeii
Painted panel in the atrium.
Pompeii
Triclinium, House of the Vetti.

 

During the reign of Augustus, from 27BC to 14 AD, piped water was finally delivered to the city with the completion of the Serino aqueduct.4 No longer was it necessary to collect rainwater in the impluvium in the atria of the larger houses and these were often completely lined with marble.

The Tuscan atrium (i.e. with no columns surrounding the impluvium or supporting the roof) is one of these with a marble-lined impluvium, now restored to how it would once have looked.

The triclinium is decorated with large paintings of mythological scenes on a red background, surrounded with architectural scenes.

Another clue to the wealth of the owners is the use of bright red cinnabar, a mineral pigment, in the paintings.

Pompeii
Triclinium, House of the Vetti.
The central panel on the east wall depicts the sacrifice of Ixion, with the gods Mercury, Juno, Vulcan and Iris.4
Pompeii
Triclinium, House of the Vetti.
Pompeii
House of the Golden Cupids
Painting of Paris and Helen at Sparta on west wall of tablinum.
Pompeii
Triclinium, House of the Vetti.

 

Insula 17 on the west of Regio VI and Insula 16 on the North west of Regio VII make up what is known as Insula Occidentalis.

Pompeii
Glass paste wall mosaics found in Insula Occidentale.
Now in Naples Archaeological Museum.
Pompeii
Portrait of "Sappho"

 

 

 

 

 

 

The famous painting of a woman with wax tablets was found here, popularly known as "Sappho".7 She holds a stylus in her right hand, meditatively touching her lips before, perhaps, writing down her thoughts. The painting is now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

 

Via dei Sepolcri

Pompeii
Porta Ercolano from the south.

The Via dei Sepolcri leading from the Porta Ercolano on the north west corner of Regio VI to the fabulous Villa dei Misteri just outside the city of Pompeii is lined with tombs. There were also several large houses and quite a few shops.

Soon after exiting the gate there are what is known as schola tombs on the left hand side. These are unique to Pompeii which has eight and were popular with the elite families. They consist of a semicircular tufa wall, forming a bench on the inner side, with a podium in the middle.4

The Schola Tomb of Mamia has an inscription on the back rest of the bench which identifies the tomb as belonging to the priestess Mamia and that the burial place was given by decree of the town councillors.6

Pompeii
Schola Tomb of Mamia
Lion leg and clawed paw on the end of the semicircular bench.
Pompeii
Delicate candelabra wall paintings.
Villa di Cicerone, now Naples Archaeological museum.
Pompeii
Schola Tomb of Mamia in front, Tomb of Gens Istacidia behind.
Pompeii
The Garland Tomb on the north side of Via dei Sepolcri.
The half dome pedimented structure is thought to be a shady public space as it has a bench and no urn has been discovered.6

 

The so-called Villa of Cicero was one of the first to be excavated in the mid-18th century. Finds were removed and the site reburied so there is little to see today. Some of the most beautiful wall paintings and mosaics have been discovered here.

Pompeii
Wall paintings of floating female figures and centaurs with figures found in the triclinium, Villa di Cicerone, now Naples Archaeological museum.
Pompeii
Detail of centaur wall paintings found in the triclinium, Villa di Cicerone, now Naples Archaeological museum.
Pompeii
Mosaic of a theatrical scene with two women, a witch and a child.
Villa di Cicerone, now Naples Archaeological museum.
Pompeii
On the left the altar-style tomb of C. Calventius Quietus, the similar tomb father down the road is of Naevoleia Tyche and C. Munatius Faustus.6
Pompeii
Mosaic of a theatrical scene of travelling musicians.
Villa di Cicerone, now Naples Archaeological museum.



Pompeii
Detail on the tomb of Naevoleia Tyche and C. Munatius Faustus.6

 

 

Villa dei Misteri

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Southern Colonnade

 

The Villa dei Misteri has probably the best of all Roman-era wall paintings to have survived. In particular a sequence of pictorial narrative scenes in a triclinium on the theme of a young woman's initiation into Dionysiac rites are almost complete. It is a colourful copy of a Greek painting from the 4th or 3rd centuries BC.4

The villa was built just outside the Porta Ercolano, Pompeii's north western gate, some time around the 1st century BC. It had around 90 rooms with a central large peristyle. On its north side were storage and service areas, south and east servant quarters and kitchens, and to the west the owner's luxurious residential quarters which, at the time, overlooked the sea.

Over the centuries it has, of course, been altered and remodelled but it was so badly damaged by the earthquake of 62AD that it was deemed to be beyond full restoration and was undergoing conversion to a farmhouse when the eruption occurred.4

The original entrance was from the east and led directly into the impressive peristyle. From here a Tuscan atrium (without columns around the impluvium) marks the beginning of the residential quarters. Today we enter from the southern colonnade and visit exclusively the residential quarters.

 

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Tuscan Atrium
A backdrop across the entrances depicts the peristyle beyond with columns on a low wall supporting the sloping roof. In the cases are two body casts.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Viridarium (a tree garden) in the north west corner.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Double-alcove Cubiculum

The villa had viridaria on the north west and south west corners, extending along the sides where the villa's master rooms are located.

 

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Double-alcove Cubiculum
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

North of the atrium is a very well-preserved double alcove cubiculum with beautiful Second Style painted walls featuring architectural scenes in perspective with columns, arches, a door, and pediments.

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
A much sparser style.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

 

Nearby, in stark contrast, are two austerely decorated rooms with the tiniest of paintings set in the centre of large red panels.

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Room on the south west corner of the Tuscan atrium seen from the west, with a lovely mosaic floor and fine wall paintings of figures.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
A beautifully painted room on the south side of the Tuscan atrium.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Room with figure paintings from the east.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Detail of figure wall painting: Dionysus and Silenas below a painting of a sacrifice of a pig to Priapus.

A room on the south west corner of the Tuscan atrium has a beautiful geometric mosaic floor and wall paintings of figures on the precious red cinnabar background. One of the attributes of red cinnabar is that it turns black on exposure to sunlight. It is also rather toxic, being derived from an ore of mercury.

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Detail of figure wall paintings: a priestess and a dancing satyr.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Black Tablinum

 

 

North of the room with the figure paintings and directly west of the Tuscan atrium is a tablinum where the master of the house would receive guests and clients.

This tablinum is particularly striking as it is one of the best examples of black ground Third Style decoration in Pompeii. The black walls divided into three horizontal bands, the upper taking up about half the height of the wall and painted with thin architectural elements and small central paintings.

The thin central strip is decorated with birds and Egyptian-inspired figures, the lower register with plants.

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Hall of the Mysteries, Villa dei Misteri.

Beautiful though all of these painted rooms are, they cannot compare with the magnificent painted triclinium in the south west corner of the villa. The large scale painted narrative has been interpreted as the initiation of a young woman into the Dionysiac rites before she is married. It is composed of ten connected scenes which cover all four walls of the room.

It begins with the reading of the ritual by a young Dionysus, through the marriage of Dionysus and Ariadne, to the uncovering of the fertility symbol of the ceremony.4 Along the way are groups of women, pastoral and drinking scenes, dancing and the beautiful young woman brushing her hair, observed by a cupid on the wall to the right of the entrance in the south west corner. On the corresponding wall to the left an older woman watches over the ceremony with a benign, if a little anxious, appearance. These latter two figures are difficult to photograph as it is not possible to actually enter the room.

 

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Silenus offers wine to a satyr while another holds a mask.
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii
Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

 

 

References

  1. Investigating the Influence of the Kettle Material on Dyeing in the Industry of Pompeii K. Kania (DE), H. Hopkins (UK) and S. Ringenberg (DE), Experimental Archaeology, Issue 2014/3
  2. The Inn, Restaurant and Tavern Business in Ancient Pompeii Sharon Marie Ruddell
  3. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities: Caupona
  4. Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City, Ed. Marisa Ranieri Panetta, White Star Publishers, 2004.
  5. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli: Mosaics
  6. Pompeii in Pictures - huge thanks also to this site for aiding in the identification of the exact location of a good number of photographs.
  7. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli: Frescoes